Saturday, August 10, 2013

Anniversary Chapter 11: Adding to the Tool Belt

These anniversaries are starting to creep up on me too fast.  I feel like the 10-year anniversary party we had was a couple weeks ago, but indeed another year has come to a close for Team Carroll.  As I was thinking about what I wanted to write, I happened to catch John Legend's newest single "All of Me" and one of the lines of the chorus struck me as it succinctly sums up the attitude I bring to my  marriage:

"Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all, all of me
And you give me all, all of you"
I talked last year about always doing the self-work that would enable me to be the best partner that I could be, however I had no real idea of how I would grow.  Turns out that with my new gig I was afforded much more time to be a part of the day-to-day lives of my boys, which required me to access parenting skills that had previously been dormant.  My household management skills were exercised like never before this year and I relished every minute of it (Don't believe me? Check drjoncarroll on Instagram).  I found myself having to create a memo in my phone to remember Lil Man's activity schedule.  I had to step up my cooking skillz as I was in charge of serving it more often than I ever had.  I embraced the opportunity to be a better household admin because of the time it allowed me to spend with the boys as well as become a more well-rounded man.  I know there are many fathers who don't get to spend that kind of quality time with their offspring, so I felt blessed to be able to do so.  My hope is that they one day feel they are better men because of the discussions we've had and that they've seen Dad do the same things Mommy does when she's home with them.  My appreciation of the years when Nkechi held down the bedtime routine grew even deeper this year.  Many days I'd fall asleep as I put Lil Man and the Munchkin to bed yet it was after bedtime when Nkechi used to get most of her writing done. 

I know that the fluidity of taking care of the house and kids has helped Nkechi and I as partners because we are better able to communicate about what we're seeing with the kids.  My goal is that as Nkechi continues to become the next Gina Prince-Bythewood, she'll continue to have confidence that she won't come home to a burned down house with the kids and I standing across the street in our pajamas because I started a grease fire making turkey burgers.  On the flipside, Nkechi continues to be my biggest cheerleader, supporter and PR agent.  Her encouragement has lead me finally finish a book on marriage I started three years ago as well as produce a companion man-ologue show.  I'm excited to see both come to fruition.  What I have come to understand is that the more we root for each other to grow, the closer we become becasue that rooting makes you an active participant in your partner's development, not simply a bystander.  We make a point to constantly check-in because the winds of change are always blowing, and it's important to understand where your partner is trying to go.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing a number of my friends and mentors for my book Married to the Franchise.  One of the themes that arose early on when it came to understanding why these dudes continue to have successful marriages is that there is no part of their marriages that they don't want to be involved in.  Bringing home a paycheck is just as important as raising the kids which is as important as maintaining a fulfilling relationship with their wives.  The tricky part is not to lose sight of any one part for the sake of another.  Here's to another year of keeping my eye on the prize.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Which Way to March? Navigating the Road to Being Part of the Solutions

I pledged after the Supreme Court launched Jim Crow 2.0 as far as Voter Rights go that I would be more politically active.  Clearly, being a husband, father, and educator wasn't enough.  When the George Zimmerman verdict came down as I thought it would, an aquittal, it only made the call more clear.  What has been frustrating is that in the wake of these massively symbolic events that make me recall when I learned about Emmet Till and having to present freedom papers to vote, the mobilization process and course of action has been difficult to decipher.  It has also been disappointing to see many "prominent voices" in the Black community taking this time of anger and emotion to do more analyzing from the cushy pundits chair than strategizing.  I find myself no less resolute to be involved in striking down institutions that have targeted youth that look like my two sons, but I am now more conscious of just how difficult this road will be to travel.

I went to the Trayvon Martin 100 cities vigil at the LA Federal courthouse organized by the National Action Network (NAN).  I wore a shirt and tie, slacks, and a hoodie.  Perfect combo of how Trayvon will be immortalized (hoodie), and what he might have been (shirt and tie wearing professional).  When I arrived, all the media outlets were setting up and there were not more than twenty people milling around.  As the nine o'clock start time arrived and NAN LA President, Rev. K.W. Tulloss began to speak, the crowd continued to swell to hundreds.  What was encouraging was the organization of the rally, the number of organizations that were represented, and the general respect of TIME.  There quickly comes a saturation point when the same talking points are being hammered home by each speaker:

"George Zimmerman may have been acquitted, but he is not guilty"

"Trayvon Marin did not die in vain"

"We must force the Dept of Justice to file civil charges against George Zimmerman"

I left the rally looking forward to seeing the coverage of the rallies in other major cities and was happy to find that they had gone off without incident.  I felt like momenutm was building towards the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington event taking place on August 24th.  I believed that until the President spoke out on the case, and everyone had a comment.  I'm nowaleft with more questions than answers a month out from what I hope will be a unifying event in Washington, DC at the Lincoln Memorial.

1.  What is the agenda?
There are a lot of things on the table that adversely impact the Black community in particular, and communities of color in general.  The NAN flier for the March on Washington is set to address Stand Your Ground Laws, Racial Profiling, Poverty, Voter Registration, etc.  The question is, which gets top billing at this moment?

2.  What is the best way to attack?
Once you figure out the areas of "deployment", what is the plan of action?  I think it is admirable that artists like Stevie Wonder have decided to boycott Florida until the Stand Your Ground law is amended or repealed altogether.  It is reminiscent of artists who boycotted the Jim Crow South.  But Stand Your Ground is hardly the most damaging issue threatening the Black community.  How do we begin to stem the growing percentage of people who are out of work, beiung stopped and frisked, undereducated, and being sent to private-owned prisons as "new slaves"?

3.  Who wants to build?
The current percentage of the US population that is Black stands at 13%, hardly enough to topple institutions designed to maintain the privileges of those who created them.  History tells us that the greatest advancements for minority communities have come at key moments of interest convergence with those in power.  So the question becomes, what groups have a vested interest in eradicating gun violence in urban centers like Chicago like we do?  What groups will also benefit from making sure that the federal preclearance clause is reformed and restored to the Voter Rights Act?  With allies, the ability to lobby effectively increases.

4.  Can there be unity?
Any successful group or team, must be able to get on the same page in order to accomplish its goals.  When I see Dr. Cornel West calling out other Black leaders as members of President Obama's plantation, I worry that we will not find that rallying point.  SNCC, CORE, SCLC, NAACP, etc found a way to do it in the 1960s, it needs to happen again.

5.  What is the President's role?
Speaking of President Obama, what issue will compel him to put aside his pragmatic identity in order to take up a more revolutionary one?  Yes he plays the political game well, and he's been rewarded with a second term.  With three years remaining in office, what is the issue that will move him to forget strategy and start ramming executive orders through Congress?  I certainly don't want to look back on these eight years and remember historic speeches, Obamacare, and how he got handcuffed by Congress at every turn.

Monday, July 8, 2013

How Do You Respond to a Supreme Court Gut Punch?

I had to take some time between posts to really digest all the things that have registered on my radar in the last couple of weeks. More importantly than what I wanted to say, I thought about how I wanted to act because after the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) surgically removed major portions of the Voter Rights Act, I watched legendary Congressman John Lewis respond on TV, and I felt disappointed in myself.  I had learned growing up about how Lewis, Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael, Marian Barry, and Diane Nash organized students throughout the South in the 1960s to execute the lunch table sit-ins that characterized much of the Civil Rights Movement.  I read The Children by David Halberstam, and came to respect them and all of those who put their lives on the line for human rights.  What was missing, however was the type of motivation to keep marching and protesting as opposed to striving for the highest degrees I could obtain while building a family and living in a house with a picket fence.  I think this has been the case for a whole generation of people my age who after watching the SCOTUS decision come down, heard the cry of Laurence Fishburne as Dap in School Daze yelling WAKE UP!!!! 

If you're a thirty-something like me, there has been little of the social adversity our parents faced that would force us to continue fighting for human rights.  Many of us have been taught that the more important road is the road that leads to a solid job that will enable retirement one day. While it is difficult to mount any type of social resistance these days without social and financial capital, being separated from a the plight of others and aloof to politics is unacceptable.  John Lewis was 24yrs old when the Voter Rights Act was put on the books in 1964, and at 73, I can only imagine the mix of anger, frustration and disappointment he must feel to see that monument to his efforts as a civil rights worker wiped away.  It's time I got my arse off the bench and be more than an occasional critic on what I see.  If the SCOTUS decision wasn't motivation enough to lace up my marching Timbs, an incident that happened to friends of mine recently added another ember to the fire.

Full disclosure:  I did not vote in the 2013 LA Mayoral election.  I wasn't impressed by either of the candidates despite their list of celebrity endorsements.  It became pretty clear to me early on that Eric Garcetti was going to win and there was little that Wendy Greuel could do about it.  So I didn't participate.  My friend Amber, however, did partcipate.  She voted for Garcetti and ran into him at a fundraiser where she hoped to congratulate him as a long-time resident of his home district.  As she waited for him to finish talking with some peers she was witness to this statement from the Mayor:

 "My base of supporters are Latinos, Asians, gays, hipsters, Republicans and whites. But I don't exclude the others".
As a professional Black woman, she was understandably surprised and offended that African-Americans would be considered "others" by a man tasked with galvanizing one of the largest cities in the country.  After composing herself, Amber did take the opportunity to greet the Mayor and express her disappointment in his statement and ask him directly what his plans were for addressing the issues of the "others", many of whom voted for him.  His answer was disappointing and shows that if we do not hold our political representatives accountable at all levels of government, then we should hardly be surprised when they do not push legislation that runs counter to our interests.  It is clear that we are in a time where if you cannot mount effective lobbying efforts for issues that matter, then your rights as citizens will continue to be eroded.  I've heard the wake up call.  See you at the next march.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Where Are Paula Deen's Black Friends?

It's funny to me that Paula Deen became "Racist of the Week" as I am in the midst of reading Baratunde Thurston's hilarious satire text How to Be Black.  Just as the headlines hit that Paula Deen was being sued by a former employee and the details of her frequent use of the N-word became public, I had just read Thurston's characterization of the nationally important Black Friend.  In short, Thurston describes the Black friend as critical double agent who is able to maintain their "blackness" while being equally skilled at navigating mainstream spaces.  Thurston goes on to detail the types of instances where a Black Friend keeps controversy from arising, and the Paula Deen moment is a perfect example of where a one would've been useful.

It boggles my mind that in 2013 there are still people who don't have to deal with someone of a different ethnicity in some way shape or form, that would help them understand the PC rules for being a public figure.  This is particularly the case for someone like Deen who has a career based in making diabetes-causing Southern comfort food.  George W. Bush had Condi and Colin Powell, Frank Sinatra had Sammie Davis, Jr., Forrest Gump had Bubba (I know, that's a stretch).  When I heard of how Deen allegedly said out loud that what would really make a good Southern wedding would be to have a "bunch of little Ni&&ers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties", I immediately thought No Black Friends.  Which is unfortunate for Deen because now she's going to lose her contract on the Food Network, and probably a few endorsements.  She'll be in image rehab sessions with Michael Richards reminiscing about how big they used to be.

As a Black Friend to more than a few, I pride myself on steering my friends of different ethnicities away from behavior that might cause them public humiliation.  It's not even anything that I have to do explicitly.  If they are really my friend, then feeling like they would have any license to use the N-word around me or any other Black person should never cross their mind.  If they're my friend, then I can tell when a question is asked out of true curiosity as opposed to mockery (Do Black people tan?)  I thank Paula Deen for the most recent reminder that we do not in fact live in a Post-Racial world, and I call upon all fellow Black friends to keep educating the masses.  This is the only way that we'll make progress.  If you're tired of teaching, buy a copy of How to be Black for a friend.  They'll be entertained and educated at the same time.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father's Day, The Finals, Tebow & The Divas

I've been a father for almost seven years now, and I feel like I've entered into the zone where my ability to be a full package father will be most necessary.  My oldest is now demonstrating a DVR-like memory which tells me that he digests everything I say and do.  Being that it is Father's Day tomorrow, I'm reflective today on both what it means to be a father and what my father did for me.  In 2013 it is critical that we strive to have our children understand the full experience of being a man so that when they grow up, they are prepared to thrive in their own home and the workplace.  I am thankful to my father for his ability to model this balance for me and my siblings growing up.

My father was rarely without two jobs when I was a youngster.  There was private school tuition, music lessons, and swim team dues to be paid for.  Somehow he still managed to find time to drive me up and down I-95 to swim meet after swim meet and discipline my brother, sister, and I with his famous monologues when we got in trouble.  The subliminal message that I have carried into fatherhood is that yes it is important to do all that you can to provide for family, but it is equally important to make sure that you are making time to nurture relationships with your children and teaching them life's lessons through both direct and indirect communication.  A constant theme when my dad would talk with me was the difference between creating a child and fathering one.  He demanded that I grow up to be responsible enough that I could be a father.  He also deomonstrated his respect and devotion to his household by never stumbling around drunk in front of us and sacrificing his own material gatin so that we could have.  All of his lessons have prepared me to be a father in an increasingly difficult world for a father to navigate.

When I look at my boys and think about all that I want them to experience (and avoid) in the world, the most important thing that I hope to pass on is that they fully embrace their own sense of manhood.  I want them to know that it is okay to to feel and exhibit the full range of human emotions and live a life of faith.  They should recognize the humanity in every person they come across and realize that they can be great relationship partners.  When they become fathers, they are more than just providers, they are whatever their children need them to be.  If they can do that, then they'll have more than earned the tie, pack of underwear, or card that they get as a gift on Father's Day to go along with the big piece chicken and a tall glass of grape Kool Aid.

On Another Note...

- The NBA Finals have been excellent theater, and though the games have not all been close, it has been interesting to see the adjustments that impact each game and who is able to elevate their play to have an influence on the outcome.  It`s easy in a social media influenced world to get swayed by negative micro analysis, but I remember when the Lakers and Celtics, Lakers and Bulls, or the Rockets and Celtics played ugly games.  History has not diminished those teams because of those moments so I'll continue to take each game for what it is and see where the chips fall in the end.

Tim Tebow somehow managed to get a job though by all analysis, he has no business trying to be an NFL-level quarterback.  Guess it does pay off to have a "Work harder than everyone" narrative following you around.  I hope it works out for the young man, and I hope he learns to stay away from the microphones this time.  He's not Tom Brady.

I'm wondering when we will hit the point where we're tired of building reality shows around black women backstabbing and throwing drinks on each other.  As if NBA Wives wasn't enough, now we've got a proliferation of R&B Divas shows.  Guess everyone wants to get their NeNe Leakes on now.  I'll be glad when this cycle of TV programming runs its ourse.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Mrs. Makes More. So What!

A new study by the Pew Research Center made waves this week as it revealed that in four of ten households, the female is the breadwinner.  It sparked a response by this Lou Dobbs panel on Fox News where they made it sound as if society is now doomed to crumble because more and more women are now outearning their partners (5.1mil in 2011).  Unbelievably, the panelists spoke of the "harm" this could cause children, and how we're going to lose a generation due to this new social order.  In addition to the completely short-sighted, sexist arguments, I was puzzled by how this was even surprising given the statistics, particularly in Black and Brown communities.  The rate of women matriculating to college, and therefore putting themselves in position to obtatin high-paying professional work, outpaces their male counterparts by almost a third according to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES).  In addition, it's a stretch at best to correlate earning potential with a man's desire for a partner.

For over a decade now I have been married to a woman who has always made more than me.  It didn't stop her from saying yes when I proposed, and it hasn't stopped us from raising two "marginally" well-adjusted boys, so forgive me if I don't see what Lou Dobbs and his panel are asserting.  Marriage is a partnership and the ones that last recognize that it doesn't matter how the resources come in, it just matters that they come in so the bills can be paid.  I'm happy in my profession and my wife is happy in hers so where's the destruction of American "moral fiber"? What the Dobbs' panel seems to be missing is that gender is not tied to what you earn.  I am not less of a "man" because I make less than my wife, nor would I be if I didn't make anything at all because I was unemployed.  The Dobbs panel and news articles with the same tone are dangerous because they send the message that old gender roles should still rule the day when that is far from reality.  They also send the message to young men that they are less than if they can't make more than their partner, and that really isn't the foundation a healthy relationship should be built on.

What is of concern is that of the 8.6 million single-mom breadwinners, the median income is only $23,000. The majority of these women are more likely to be Black or Latino and are not college educated, which limits their earning potential.  Yes, children born to single-moms can "make it" (see Barack Obama), but it is a tough road to hoe without tremendous amounts of support.   We do need to adjust the message that we send to teens who get pregnant.  Rewarding them with the chance to be contestants on reality shows is not the direction we should continue to move towards.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dr. Dre and Dr. Kimbrough Should Have A Chat

I don't remember exactly what I was doing when I saw the newscast of Dr. Dre walking the campus of USC with Jimmy Iovine with a headline that read something like "BIG DONATION".  I do, however, remember thinking that it was a generous gift and hoping that Dre had required stipulations that would insure that kids from his native Compton might have more access to the USC campus, which currently sports a miniscule African American population.  Little did I know the furor that would soon arise from educators such as Dr. Walter Kimbrough and Dr. Boyce Watkins.

Until he decides to write his tell all book, we're not going to know much about educational aspirations Dre might've had when he was younger.  As someone who has spent almost a decade nowon the West Coast , I can say with confidence that he didn't grow up with the same romanticized notions of HBCUs that I did.  As a youngster in Philly, I was raised by parents who were tied to a network of HBCU alums.  My father went to Cheyney, and I also grew up around folks who went to Howard (my aunt), Morehouse, Spelman, Lincoln.  There was a familiarity with these schools because so many of the influential adults in my life had attended them and a push that you got to experience a particularly cool slice of Black Americana if you went to one.  So I grew up wanting to go to Morehouse.  Had their swim team been a little better, I might be a "Morehouse Man" today.  I wanted to experience what I saw in movies like School Daze and shows like A Different World.  What I've come to understand more clearly as an adult raising kids in Cali is that it is hard to immerse them in that atmosphere when there's not an HBCU within 300 miles.  So I can hardly blame Dre that when he was approached about the idea of giving his money to a school, neither Dillard, nor Howard, nor Alcorn State crossed his mind.  This action speaks to a continuing shift in the centrality of race in identity expression for many minorities. It appears that many from a previous generation like Dr. Kimbrough are having trouble catching up.

Dr. Kimbrough is right in his letter where he asserts that it would have been nice for Dre to reach back and offer some of his charity to underserved communities like Compton which have helped make him so popular, but he doesn't owe them that.  The man is rightly trying to create a legacy that his kids kids can benefit from and who can blame him?  As race shifts from the center of identity focus for many minorities in this country, socioeconomic status seems to be the heir apparent. It is made clearer everyday that if you cannot somehow elbow your way into the 1% in this country, you've got a tough road to navigate because increasingly it's not paved with opportunity.  If those who are tasked with leading HBCUs like Dr. Kimbrough want to boost their endowments to the levels of the historically "elite" schools in the country, then perhaps they should do a better job of marketing their institutions and making it clear to the Dr. Dre's, and Jay-Z's of the world why it's in their benefit to do so.  The era where shared skin color is the great motivator have long ended.

On Another Note:
- Good to see somebody finally got to President Obama about wreckless drone use
- Can we please stop being distracted by what the President says or does not say in a commencement speech and focus on finding a policy around which to rally for change? (ex: housing, education, law enforcement)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Oprah and Fatherless Sons, Peeples, Shrinking Financial Aid Packages

I randomly caught Oprah's Life Class special on Fatherless Sons last Sunday and it stayed on my mind for the next three days.  The impact that not having a father present during thier youth had on grown men with their own kids had me riveted to the screen.  I felt for the dudes who admitted that they had trouble loving and getting close to others because of the trust issues they developed after being abandoned by their fathers.  I was eating up everything Oprah and life coach Iyanla Vanzant had to say until one of the audience members was overcome with emotion as he told his story and received a hug from Roland Warren of the National Fatherhood Initiative.  I was moved to post this tweet in the immediate aftermath:
I took issue with Iyanla calling this emotional moment between two men "male mothering" because it plants the seed that to be nurturing and affectionate is inextricably tied to being feminine.  If this is the message that I pass on to my sons, than I am setting them up to struggle in relationships throughout their life.  One of the benefits of a two parent household is that a child can see that men and women are capable of the full range of emotions.  That is what makes us human.  It is not solely one parent's job to be the "hammer" while the other is the "comforter".  When a child grows up understanding that it is okay to experience and express the full emotional spectrum, they are much better equipped to deal with life's ups and downs.  I wish there would've been somebody on the panel to push Iyanla and Oprah in that moment because it was a key "teachable moment.
On Another Note:
Black people get another opportunity this weekend to demonstrate whether or not they will support films featuring predominantly black casts in a way that will make Hollywood studios take notice.  Peeples starring Kerry Washington, Craig Robinson and David Alan Grier, debuts today and was written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism.  The film was produced by Tyler Perry's 34th St. Films (shout out Amber Rasberry), which exists to produce projects not written by TP.  There is always chatter particularly where Tyler Perry is involved that the spectrum of stories that gets told featuring actors of color needs to broaden, that Perry's films appeal to the "lowest common denominator".  Here we have something different.  Gordon Chism has a history of making box office winners with ATL (2006) and Drumline (2002) on her resume.   Both opened in the top three their opening weekend.  Between that credibility, Perry's following, and starring one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood in Washington, that should be a recipe for a hit, but we shall see.  I hope that it is not a scenario where Perry putting his name on the project actually works against him.  I'd prefer to see TP's involvement work out like it did for Precious ($11M first weekend of wide release).  Peeples is opening in three times as many theatres as Precious so that should not be a problem.  I'm putting my money where my mouth is and will have my gummi bears and soda next to me for a 1p showing.  Gotta support my Peeples.
Final Note
I wrote recently about the increasing privatization of public schooling and how it makes it so those without means have no viable vehicle out of poverty to better themselves.  That argument was further reinforced for me this week as I read that a study conducted by the New America Foundation concluded that low income students are getting less merit-based finanical aid than students from wealthier families. The study noted that in an effort to keep their US News & World Report rankings up colleges will offer multiple small aid packages to families who can afford more of the tuition versus one big aid package to the family who can afford less.  The rules of the game keep changing and it's a sad state of affairs.  Looks like Team Carroll needs to start doubling down on our college fund investments.  Full article

Happy Mother's Day to all. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mr. Cee Wishes He Had What Jason Collins Has

Last Monday Jason Collins went from being a journeyman NBA center at the tail end of his career to a media darling, and a hero depending on who you ask.  His announcemnt that he is gay put a face on the "active gay athlete" and garnered him praise and salutations from peers in the NBA all the way up to Presidents Clinton and Obama.  To me the announcement was ironic because a month ago, I met the original gay NBA trailblazer, John Amaechi, who confirmed his homosexuality shortly after retiring.  In attendance at the talk that Dr. Amaechi gave at Harvard Westlake was Jaron Collins (pictured right with Dr. Amaechi making me look short), one of HWs proudest alums, twin brother of Jason, and former teammate of Amaechi.  I came to find out last week that part of Jarron's reason for catching up with his old teammate was to put him in contact with his brother, who he knew was thinking about coming out.  As the media circus unfolded last week, I couldn't help but think how lucky the NBA is to have Jason Collins be that "first".  He's not someone who's had trouble of any kind during his career.  To a man, those who have played with him over the last decade have had positive things to say.  Knowing Mr. and Mrs Collins, I felt that Jason wouldn't face the type of questioning that others would because of the "Huxtable-like" family he comes from.  As this week has unfolded, I'm sure Hot 97 Mister Cee wishes he had such a support system.

The famous NY deejay, noted for his relationship with the Notorious B.I.G (RIP) was arrested this week for soliciting an undercover cop posing as a male prostitute, his third such arrest.  While he instantly become a popular hashtag topic and rival radio personalities like Power 105's Charlamagne tha God called for him to "come out" the DJ continued to identify as heterosexual.  Much of the discussion around whether or not a homosexual athlete could confirm their sexual orientation and therefore affirm their full identity centered around the response that would come from the lockerroom.  The lockerroom, in these discussions is characterized as the "chapel of true manhood"  and Chris Culliver of the 49ers confirmed that line of thinking during Super Bowl week when he spoke about not wanting "that sweet stuff" around him.  While ex-NBA player Larry Johnson has been one of the few voices to echo Culliver's sentiment of being uncomfortable, many in the NBA, such as Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace expressed support and noted that a players sexuality meant little to the ultimate goal of getting buckets and winning.  The response of the hip-hop community has been far less welcomng, and it is no wonder that even if Mister Cee is homosexual, that he would feel the community where he makes his money would accept him.

In his 3:00 "Donkey of the Day" Charlamagne calls for Mister Cee to "live his truth", but also calls him "sis", "boo", and a "serial purchaser of penis"for all of NY to hear.  Can we really be surprised that while Charlamagne was ranting, Mister Cee was defending himself on Hot 97 spinning a tale of how the police are out to get him?  You can tell me all you want that the hip-hop world is ready to except homosexual figures like Frank Ocean.  I think the evidence proves otherwise.  So while Jason Collins can come out in a league where it is now bad for the bottom line to be a homophobe, bolstered by the cache of where he went to school and the people he knows, not to mention the cocoon of a loving family and millions in career earnings, Mister Cee will be material for memes, tweets and hip-hop lyrics for years to come.  Damn shame because no matter a person's orientation, they should be able to feel fully human.  Unfortunately, being a mainstream male rapper still means having to sport an ultra-masculine persona.  Success and prowess in hip-hop is gained by "battling" aka "manning up".  Being a homosexual does not fit that archetype.

On Another Note

Lil' Wayne
lost his deal with Pepsi over lyrics in a song where he invoked the name of Emmit Till in a manner that the Till family didn't find to respectful.  This comes on the heels of Rick Ross losing his Reebok deal over lyrics deemed to be cosigning rape.  I hope rappers in particular and entertainers in general are starting to understand that they can have all the freedom of speech they want, but it will affect their pockets at some point.  I don't agree with what Pepsi did because I could write a paper on damaging Lil Wayne lyrics before this one set the Till family off, but I do understand the rules of the corporate game.  So rappers have a choice to make:  bring the lyrics within the boundaries of what big companies are willing to throw money behind or take full advantage of freedom of speech and unapologetically tell the stories you want?  The answer will show how truly street smart some of these cats are.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Public Education is Dead, But The Human Spirit Isn't

It has been a constant bother to see how public education across the country, and particularly in my hometown of Philadelphia, has crumbled like the ancient ruins in Rome.  School closures have been combined with the Charter movement to make it increasingly difficult for poor students to use education as a ladder out of poverty as so many have done in decades past.  What makes the school closures especially painful in these large metropoli is that the majority of students who are effected are students of color.  It signals that those in power care little for those who need the most assistance to make a way in the world.  I was lucky enough to be able to attend private school for my elementary and middle school years, but had I not gone to a public high school, my college path, and that of my siblings would have been totally different.  I shudder to think about students in my West Philly neighborhood who now face the closure of their neighborhood middle school and are not being funneled into a suitable alternative as is often advertised. 

These closures signal that public education has truly hit rock bottom, and is effectively brain dead.  For years now, the best public school districts in the country have been those that draw off a tax base that could afford supporting students in the ways necessary to be competitive college matriculants. However, with the continued siphoning of resources away from public education, even those communities must dig into their pockets on top of what they pay in local taxes to insure that their children receive the most basic education essentials, effectively creating a community sponsored private education.  For those communities that can't afford to draw upon their consituents directly, they are left to suscribe to programs like the President's Race to the Top initiative, which rewards schools for test scores achieved Malcolm X style (by any means necessary).  It is no surprise that test fraud cases have popped up in major cities such as Atlanta, Washington D.C, and yes my beloved Philadelphia. 

So what are poor families supposed to do so that they are not left completely behind?  I've got three suggestions:

1.  Non-profit organizations - Yes they still exist and they offer all kinds of programming meant to help keep kids out of trouble.

2.  Houses of Worship - At their core, churches, mosques, synagogues, etc are meant to serve the people and do so with various programs beyond their days of worship.  In the age of "mega-size" congregations, these places are often well-resourced to offer needed community activities

3.  Community Centers - Most cities still manage to keep a Dept of Recreation operating which means that there is a neighborhood community center that can keep kids occupied when they're not at school.

It is truly a shame that education, a tool that was once used to indoctrinate all citizens in this country, is increasingly becoming a privilege to be enjoyed only by the socially savvy.  Gone are the days where the neighborhood school house is a place to be enjoyed by all for the benefit of all.  In order to advance in society now a basic education is not enough so those who have the least must become increasingly street smart about hustling the education game and hopefully decide not to simply hustle in the streets.  That is the decision the board of Corrections Corp of America would like to see youth continue to make because they've got plenty of beds waiting.

On Another Note:  I randomly received a book on grieving in the wake of Justin E. Carr's passing.  I was touched to see that someone I do not know was moved to make such a gesture.  There is something to be said about how people rally around one another in the aftermath of tragedy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lessons from 42

I saw 42 last weekend with the Mrs and was very happy to hear that over the first weekend, it was the highest grossing baseball movie ever.  I liked the way the movie was done because it gave you enough to have a conversation about what you were seeing and it elicited an emotional response about what went on during that time.  It got me to thinking about how I might teach this movie if I were still in the classroom.  Here are a couple of the things that stuck out for me.

1.  The Amount of Accomplishment it Took to Break Through White Privilege

Jackie Robinson was selected by Branch Rickey to break the color barrier in baseball from among many accomplished Black ball players in the Negro Leagues.  It wasn't just about his prowess as a baseball player that made him the best candidate to be the "chosen one" but he had to be an all-around great human.  He couldn't be a criminal, a cheat, or a deadbeat husband, but instead, he had to be a patriot, a Christian, an activist, and a devoted husband and father.  The dichotomy between Jackie's resume and that of his white counterparts is a powerful symbol of privilege in this country. Valuable conversation can be had about the nature of privilege in this country and how it works.  Jackie Robinson's accolades off the field also provide a blueprint for what is possible today for young student athletes who face some of the same challenges of access and privilege that Mr. Robinson encountered.

2.  Ethnic Identity Discovery

Often the burden of figuring out one's identity is left to the "person of color" because they are the "other" whose existence lies outside the mainstream. In 42 you get to see how white players had to do their own searching to figure out their identities in the face of watching Mr. Robinson fight to maintain not only his identity as a baseball player and a Black man, but as a human.  Pee Wee Reese in particular is shown to progress from being someone reticent to deal with race issues to deciding that he cannot stand by and let a man be treated like an animal.

3.  Interest Convergence

While Branch Rickey may have had some sympathy for the plight of Black players given his past and his Christian beliefs, his fiscal legacy also stood to gain by being the first owner to bring Black players into the Major Leagues.  No major institution changes drastically without the gatekeepers recognizing that there is benefit in them giving a little.  On top of the financial bump at the gate from additional patrons, Rickey's Dodgers also would be the first to tap into a talented well of ball players by bringing in Negro League stars (at a cheaper price).  The more we can understand interest convergence at an early age, the more prepared young people are to make real change.  The case for some of our most pressing social issues today (gun control, immigration reform) won't get solved without the narrative being spun so that both sides feel like they got a win.

On another note:  Good luck to Kobe Bryant as he rehabs his torn achilles.  Keep praying not only for Boston, but the world.  We rise to violence way too quickly these days.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Class Notes 4/8 - Notes for a Blue Chipper

As I become older and balder, the excitement that comes with the end of the college basketball season is now dulled because the minute "One Shining Moment" ends (RIP Luther), the talk turns not to how good teams will be next year with many of their players returning, it is instead centered around which underclass players will leverage their seasons into becoming NBA draft picks.    What makes me particularly crotchety is that while I can't knock many of these cats for getting their hustle on and realizing dreams of becoming professional basketball players, I know that the great majority who enter into the draft are not receiving sound evaluations and ultimately end up playing in some D-league arena or overseas as opposed to Staples Center, Madison Square Garden or the Barclays Center. 

As it is becoming clear that I may face this situation a little more than a decade from now when I'm looking up at my "Lil" Man (he's already near my shoulder at 6yrs), I've decided to practice laying out just how I would discuss the options so that my potential baller (his range on the backyard hoop is getting deeper) could make an informed choice.  Maybe these notes will end up in the hands of some current baller mulling over whether or not he's ready.

IF BEING IN THE LOTTERY IS ASSURED:  Son, you did it!  I'm so proud.  You have worked your ass off to get to this moment, and I'm so happy to see that it has paid off for you.  HOWEVER, there are some things that you need to keep clear if you are really going to maximize the blessing that you are about to receive.  You know how we've been waking up at 5a to be in the gym at 6a, and then going back to the gym at 4p since you started HS?  That can't change.  You're about to be playing with MEN son, and there's so much more development that needs to happen so that you are not just a lottery pick, but an eventual all-star.  You now have to make decisions that you have never been faced with before, and will require YOU to do your research and be able to read people.  Your mother and I will be here for you every step of the way, so don't hesitate to ask when you have questions.  Just know that you're about to enter the grown up world, where the repercussions of your mistakes are much higher.  This is also a good reason for you to keep taking classes toward your degree in the off-season while you're training.  Finishing your degree will make the transition into your second career much more seamless and give you the kind of social capital that enables you to partner with those who will make sure your ball money has longevity.  If you keep the discipline you've had thus far, you'll be fine.
Ballers in this draft I'd use this script on:  Nerlens Noel (pictured), Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo

IF PROJECTED TO BE TAKEN IN THE FIRST ROUND:  Son, what a season.  You've got the scouts talking and that's good, but I'm concerned about your evaluations coming back from NBA people.  They point out some of the same things as your coach in terms of being ready to contribute  in the League, and isn't that what you want.  Does Marquise Teague look happy to you sitting on that bench in Chicago?  How do you think Tyler Lamb feels playing the majority of the time for the Tulsa 66ers instead of the OKC Thunder?  If you stay in school for another year, that's another year for you to shine on a Top team with national TV exposure so that you are ready to contribute when you get to the league.  I know you want to get paid, but your mother and I have you covered.  Don't spit on that scholarship you're on either.  It's worth something, and will become even more important when you're playing career is over.  You want to coach in college?  You'll need a degree.  You want to build your own empire?  A degree will help you not have to depend on someone else to figure it out.  I just don't want you to rush this move, because if you jump too early and end up in a place that's not going to develop you, then you're stuck, and when you're not on the court, you can be forgotten quickly.
Ballers in this draft I'd use this script on:  Glen Robinson, III (pictured), Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett, Ben McLamore, Gary Harris

NOT PROJECTED TO BE TAKEN IN FIRST ROUND:  Son, help me understand why you want to leave so bad.  Where are you hearing that you're going to be taken in the first round?  You know when it comes to leaving early, being taken in the first round is important because being taken in the second round gives you no guarantee of being on the Opening Day roster.  There are no agents calling son, your college coach didn't get a favorable response from his sources, so tell me what's really going on so I can ride with you.  If you don't want to be in school anymore, cool, but lets plan for what happens should you not get drafted.  And what are going to do if you drop out of school until the draft?  What's the plan?  You've invested too much time into this to take this big of a risk when you still have the opportunity to develop at school for free.  Yes, I know you see the carrot of a big contract right in front of you, but you've done fine to this point, and why not take a little more time to make sure that you are going to get a guaranteed contract?  The decision is ultimately yours son because it's your life, just make sure you've got a plan.
Ballers in this draft I'd use this script on:  James Michael McAdoo, Gorgui Dieng (pictured), Shane Larkin, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Ultimately my Lil Man will have to make his own decision should he go down the athletic path that the aforementioned athletes are travelling.  It is a road that can provide life-changing rewards, but only to the few, and if you're unfortunately not one of the "chosen ones" then there is a whole life that you have to live off the court.  I worry that too many young men put all their eggs in the athletic basket, and then when it doesn't work out, they don't have options.  There's got to be a better way to play the "game" than that, and that is what I would hope my son would take away from our conversation.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Class Notes 4/1 - Kevin Ware, Rick Ross

I came home from my Easter Sunday brunch all set to watch what was shaping up to be a great game between Louisville and Duke to see who would travel to Hotlanta for the Final Four.  When Greg Gumbel started going over the first half highlights and made mention of the horrific injury suffered by Kevin Ware, I immediately hopped on social media to see what he was talking about because I knew somebody would post the footage.  Sure enough I got to see the most horrific in-game injury I have ever seen.  It trumped McGahee, Theismann, and Lattimore and has started a discussion, with notable input from Chris Rock about how NCAA players are "slaves" because when something like this happens, they have no recourse, and universities continue to stack millions on the backs of unpaid "employees".  If you want numbers, check out Chris Hayes' article.  I am firmly in the camp that college athletes in revenue generating sports need to have some process afforded them where they are able to access some of the profits that they help generate for their universities and other licensees.  When I was in school in the late 90s, the Fab Five was a unit all to themselves that far outpaced the brand recognition of the University of Michigan.  They probably meant as much to Nike marketing at that time as Jordan, Barkley, and Robinson, and they did it for FREE

All that said, I think the greater lesson is that this is not new.  Athletes and their families make a choice about how they want to develop with their eyes wide open.  The slavery metaphor is weak because of these choices, and it's not as if the education that student-athletes are offered is worth nothing.  Blue-chippers take a calculated gamble to go and play for these schools, with the hope that they get enough exposure that they can "cash in" with a pro contract which in effect launches them into being their own brand.  It is a deal with the devil, but is not chattel slavery, and the lesson is that the support networks of the high profile athletes need to step their game up and really figure out what is the best gamble to take.  As an educator, born to educators, it frustrates me that so little weight is given to the idea of actually leveraging atheletic talent to eventually gain a degree which is a valuable piece of social capital in our economy.  If college just simply isn't your deal, then take the gamble that Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler did and go be a professional overseas until you can make it in to the League.  Kevin Ware will be taken care of because of the high-profile nature of his injury, and he will have an opportunity to potentially come back to the court and finish his degree, which he will need if he does not show enough skill to potentially be drafted.  His story should be yet another cautionary tale of just how tenuous it is to put all your future hopes and dreams in the athletic basket.  There are smarter ways to make that gamble so you can come out a winner in the end.  This is certainly the message I'll be teaching mine as they grow and continue to be interested in sports.

Speaking of things I'll be teaching my sons, it's been interesting to watch the coverage and fallout around Rick Ross' lyrics in the song U.O.E.N.O  where he rhymes about slipping "Molly" in a girls drink and then taking her home and "enjoying that".  Not a good look for the "BOSS" as rape culture and its perpetuation is hot on people's minds in the aftermath of the Steubenville, OH case among others.  What's interesting is that this isn't even the most egregious example of suggested rape in hip-hop, yet this is the one that gets everybody up in arms?  What person who grew up listening to BBD as I did doesn't remember this lyric:

"Backstage, under age, Adolescent, how ya doin'?
“Fine,” she replied,
I sighed“I like to do the wild thing”
Action took place
Kinda wet, don't forget
The J, the I, the M, the M, the Y, y'all I need a body bag

What keeps a young man from turning this lyric into reality?  Or a young girl internalizing this as normal behavior? Or understanding that it's not a nonfiction account in the first place?  Home training, and it's my job to make sure my boys know the difference between what's made up to be consumed as "entertainment" and what's real.  So if we're going to be "outraged" by Rick Ross, let's be outraged by the whole persona that he presents of being a gangsta/pimp, and what it could mean for our children, not just one lyric.  Or, we take the time to have conversations with our kids about what they're hearing so that they can be knowledgable consumers.  I think its more productive to frame how we have those conversations with impressionable minds who listen to and are fans of Rick Ross than to have "selective outrage" over lyrics that suggest destructive behavior.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Class Notes - Therapy

When I went into my account to start this blog, I found that the last post I started was over a month ago.  It was the day after Justin Carr's life tragically ended, and I was grasping at all forms of normalcy to try and deal.  As I sat at the computer that day, everything just started to spill out.  All the details of the twenty minutes from when I was joking with Justin until he was whisked away in an ambulance.  As my wife sat with me making sure I didn't have a complete breakdown, she cautioned me that maybe I should give it some time.  Perhaps reliving it wasn't what I needed in that moment.  She was right.... as usual.  What I needed, and have needed in the weeks since, was my family and friends to keep touching base because when my mind was left to idle, my mental DVR would start replaying the afternoon of February 22nd between 3:40p to 9:30p.  I'd see Justin's face, and that of his parents when I greeted them at the hospital.  I'd see the faces of shock that his teammates and classmates wore as they sat in the hospital grieving.  I'd hear my boss deliver the news that he didn't make it.  The only things that seemed to stop the playback and allow me to keep moving were the texts, emails, and words of encouragment I received from my colleagues, family, and friends.  The laughter and innocence of my boys was invaluable as was the reassurement from those who had been through similar situations that it was okay, in fact necessary to keep living.  Needless to say, forming opinions about politics, sports, and entertainment were the last things on my mind.

Slowly, I have been able to get back to a sense of normalcy, and that has mainly been due to the recognition that I have to play my part in keeping Justin's legacy alive.  He packed so much activity into a sixteen year life.  From the way I coach to the way I raise my boys, everything will be infused with the memory of what Justin was striving to do in his life, and the impact he had on those he touched.  He figured out how to be comfortable in his own skin given that his interests didn't fit the "profile" for a young black man.  That's a powerful lesson for any family.  He also pursued his interests relentlessly, which I will continue to carry with me.  I've found that focusing on these lessons keeps the DVR playback at bay.  The images like the one pictured and the video below help my brain focus on something else, and I will continue to need that for the foreseeable future.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Class Notes 2/11

I think I'm done trying to watch award shows that don't have any regard for the art froms that I like.  I watched the Grammys last weekend and found myself wondering why so many of the hip-hop and R&B awards don't make the actual broadcast.  It's similar to when I watch the Oscars and the 5-7 movies that get nominated for Best Picture are flicks I've never even heard of.  Doesn't mean that the artists who do get nominated aren't talented.  I enjoyed Mumford & Sons performance as well as the Black Keys (infused with the Preservation Hall Band), but that's not making my playlist rotation when I'm in the car.  I'm sure I'll find something else to do with my three hours on a Sunday night when your favorite awards show is on.  Here are the rest of my Class Notes:

POLITICS:  Read the transcript of the State of the Union address.  Liked the President's emphasis on the pockets where jobs can be created (clean energy, infrastructure), and that there needs to be serious redress of the minimum wage.  I also liked his subtle tweak to the education program where schools will be rewarded for innovative partnerships that better prepare students to be competitive workers in an increasingly tech-oriented global economy.  It was also encouraging to hear him speak of aiding those who are trying to keep their homes.  My critique of the speech would be that while the President continues to extend his hand towards Republican peers in an effort to make bipartisanship more than an ideal, he needs to make it more clear that there is an expiration date on that collegial nature.  He noted taking executive action in the speech, and I would've liked to see him be more explicit about the items that he is willing to ram through should he not receive the support that he needs.  I am tired of simple opposition politics played out by privileged folk who are rarely held accountable by those whose lives they carelessly toy with while gridlocking policies meant to help those who most need it.

SPORTS:  It's NBA All-Star Weekend which means that H-Town is about to be besieged by those who hold roundball culture dear.  The NBA does a great job of complimenting their product on the floor with events that cater to it's most hardcore fans.  However, I've got a couple of ideas that would take the weekend to yet another level:

1.  Mix up the All-Stars - The all-star game is an exhibition at its core, so I propose jazzing it up even further by getting rid of the East/West designations and just letting legends pick up the squads like they have begun to do in the Rising Stars game.  You could then potentially have pairings of Kobe and LeBron versus Durant and Wade.  So now when the game gets serious in those last five minutes of the fourth quarter, you'd have even better matchups then just teammates playing against other teammates (ex: the Heat all-stars versus the Thunder all-stars).  If I was dubbed commissioner for the day here's what the 2013 All-Star squads might look like:

Ballers -
(starters) Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Kevin Garnett

Shot Callers -
(starters) Russell Westbrook, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard

2.  Tennis-style sets - To keep the game from getting too far out of hand, play best of three to twenty-one or even thirty.  That way each bucket counts a little more.

ENTERTAINMENT:  Looks like the Beyonce world takeover, which started with her Super Bowl halftime show and will continue in the States throughout the summer.  Nose bleed tickets for the show are hard to come by already, and they're far from cheap all the way around.  There's also the documentary she produced which will air on HBO this weekend.  Salute to Mrs. Carter.  Keep doing what you do.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Class Notes 2/4

What a Super Bowl!  Uncle Ray Ray got to ride off into the sunset and will now be the most watched father during University of Miami football games where his son will play in the fall.  Joe Flacco is about to be a 100millionaire, and Ed Reed can now shed his Django fro.  Everything else in the aftermath of the Super Bowl has just been noise.  Partially because of the stomach flu turned cold I've been battling, and partially because none of the notes I took in the last couple week have moved anywhere (not surprised).  That said here's what I got for this week:

POLITICS:  Major cities are starting to get fed up with the systemic shutdown and or reconfiguration of public schools in key neighborhoods predominanted by students of color.  Advocates for Crenshaw HS in Los Angeles are not happy with the proposed reconstitution of their high school into three magnet schools fearing that it would disenfranchise many current students and are calling on the US Dept of Education (USDOE) to examine the nature of this restructuring on the grounds that it is racially discriminatory act.  If successful, Los Angeles would join the list of major cities where the USDOE has already agreed to look into school shutdowns and reorganizations.  This list currently includes, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.  This is intriguing because if these cities start winning these cases and organizations like the Crenshaw Cougar Coalition are successfully able to defend their districts, then it may lead to a greater discussion about the President's Race to the Top education program, which is flawed in how it rewards schools for success as measured primarily by test scores, but cares little about the means by which the success is achieved.  Full article on Crenshaw Complaint

SPORTS:  There was a time when I could name at least three players on any of the Top 20 college basketball teams in the country.  It made college basketball especially exciting to watch because you were getting a good preview of the dudes who would soon dominate the NBA.  With the current "one-and-done" rule in place, the best players in college now leave after one season to take NBA money leaving college teams in a constant state of flux and the games less exciting.  What  kills me is that NBA teams feel forced to take players on potential, so their game is watered down because each roster only has so many players who actually know what their doing.  Teams also can't rely on the draft to improve.  The Charlotte Bobcats' roster is full of former 1st round picks, including last year's #2 pick, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (9ppg) and they aren't close to being a .500 ball club.  The NBA either needs to invest more money in the Developmental League (D-League) so that if players continue to leave school after one year they have a vehicle for improvement or work with the NCAA to come up with a new standard of when players can enter the league.  Of the three one-and-done players the University of Kentucky sent into the league last year, only Anthony Davis is averaging double-digits in scoring (13ppg).  It stands to reason that another year in college, particularly for Marquis Teague wouldn't have hurt.

ENTERTAINMENT:  The Grammys are this weekend.  My picks in the categories that I'll pay attention to (by the way, who comes up with these categories?):

Record of the Year:  "We Are Young" - FUN
Album of the Year:  Frank Ocean
Song of the Year:  "Call Me Maybe" - Carly Rae Jepsen
Best New Artist:  FUN
Best R&B Song:  "Adorn" - Miguel
Best R&B Album:  "Robert Glasper Experiment" - Robert Glasper
Best Traditional R&B Performance:  "Lately" - Anita Baker
Best Rap Performance:  "Ninjas in Paris" - Kanye and Jay-Z
Best Rap Song:  "Lotus Flower Bomb" - Wale
Best Rap Collaboration:  "Tonight" - John Legend and Ludacris

Friday, February 1, 2013

Class Notes 1/28

If I'm Joe Biden, I don't like what I saw when I watched 60 Minutes last Sunday as I watched my boss, the President, yucking it up with departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  That can't be a good sign for any Presidential aspirations he may have.  SAG Awards were a snoozer.  The only awards season intrigue left for me is if Argo (Best Picture) and Daniel Day Lewis (Best Male Actor) complete the acting triple crown (Golden Globes, SAG, Oscars).

POLITICS:  Immigration Reform took center stage this week with a visible display of bi-partisanship.  While it was nice to hear members from both major parties come together and pledge that they believe comprehensive immigration reform can get done, I think partisan politics will eventually derail this legislation.  This would include items such as a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and the DREAM Act, which offers the chance of higher education for undocumented children born in the US.  I find it hard to believe that those who oppose immigration reform will all of a sudden be willing to bargain for a deal that would potentially widen the registration disparity between new Democrats and Republicans.  Monday's press conference which featured Senators Chuck Schumer (D), John McCain (R), Dick Durbin (D), Lindsey Graham (R), Robert Menendez (D), Marco Rubio (R), Michael Bennet (D), and Jeff Flake (R) was in effect symbolic for Dems in that they will continue to fight for citizenship and for Republicans it signaled that they are at least making the effort to be more inclusive as a party.  While Republicans were willing to smile and talk about optimism during the press conference, Rubio was quick to go on numerous talk shows with a much more tempered attitude.

Rubio is one of the "stars" of the Republican party who may have aspirations for 2016.  He will not be able to earn the favor of the more conservative, deep-pocketed parts of the party if he's known as one of the architects of reform that paved the way for millions to become citizens, the great majority of whom would register as members of the Democratic Party.  Ultimately, if this legislation does make it to the floor, it will die just like it did in 2005.  In 2014, Republicans will be able to say that they made the effort.  Only when locals in states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida mobilize to change the political climate will we start to see reform like this gain some traction.

SPORTS: The unofficial national holiday known as the Super Bowl is upon us, and it is a historic one in that the opposing coaches are brothers.  Jim and John Harbaugh prove the strength of genetics as both of them have taken the coaching DNA given to them by their father, and have risen to the top of their profession.  This Super Bowl also holds intrigue because we get to see if one of the all-time greats, Ray Lewis, gets to ride off into the football analyst chair with a win in the big game a la John Elway and Jerome Bettis.  I've been a fan of Ray Lewis since the U and continue to view him as one of the greatest leaders the gridiron has ever seen.  Speculation about his role in a double murder which occurred after he won his first Super Bowl in 2000 have resurfaced and that is fair given that two men died and there are key questions that remain unanswered.  I don't think we'll ever know the whole story about that night or the Dear Antler Spray Uncle Ray allegedly took to get back on the field this season.  None of that will matter, however after kickoff on Sunday, so here's how  I see it playing out so Ray Rice, Ed Reed, Joe Flacco and Co. will get to hold the Lombardi Trophy while the confetti drops: 

1.  Joe Flacco has to hit a big play early.  In any profession, think about what it does to your psyche to work hard,  and have success only to hear in evaluations that you haven't done well enough.  You're not elite though your record says otherwise.  This is what Joe Flacco has endured throughout his career, and through it all, he has not lost it, he continued to go out and win.  In this year's playoffs he has taken out the quarterbacks who will go down as the best of this generation, and now he's only one win away from joining the short list of active quarterbacks who have lead their team to a Championship.  If he hits a 30+ yard pass early in the game, then I think the confidence he has shown throughout the playoffs will continue.  He also has only been sacked once in the playoffs which has helped him be able to pick apart defenses.  Continued steady offensive line play will be critical.

2.  Ravens have to force the 49ers  to abandon the running game.  The reason that Colin Kaepernick is starting this Super Bowl over former starter Alex Smith is that between his arm strength and mobility, he makes the 49ers a more explosive, dynamic team.  He can run and breakdown defenses like he did against Green Bay or he can stay in the pocket and throw precisely as he did versus Atlanta.  All of what makes Kaepernick dangerous however, is set up by Frank Gore's running, and if the 49ers get down early and have to throw to catch up, then they lose the most consistent and stable part of their offense.  The 49ers offensive line excels at run blocking and their ball carriers averaged 5 yards per carry.

3.  Ravens have to win the Special Teams battle.  Jacoby Jones is an All-Pro special teams playeer who had one punt return for a touchdown and two kickoff returns to the house.  Conversely, the 49ers had no returns for touchdowns this year.  Ravens Kicker Justin Tucker has made 91% of his field goals this year while the 49ers kicker, David Akers, has only made 69% of his field goals.  Akers has been particularly sketchy on kicks over 40 yards.

ENTERTAINMENT:  After a shaky start, the Real Husband of Hollywood (RHOH) seems to have found its footing and BET appears to have a new hit show.  Entertainment Weekly dubbed the show a "must-see" and I won't be surprised to see more of Robin Thicke on the TV as he's had some of the funniest moments on the show.  Somebody please tell Nelly he doesn't have to try and act.  He's playing himself.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Class Notes week of 1/21

Nothing like a Presidential Inaguration to stir up controversies both valid and imagined.  From President Obama taking oath on Dr. King's bible to Slick Willy's wandering eye to Beyonce's lip-sync-gate, there was much to digest and take note of this week while preparing for the onslaught of Super Bowl coverage which will feature the Harbaugh family, Ray Lewis and Colin Kaepernick. We also bid adieu to Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State as she catches her breath before her run in 2016.  Here's what I took particular note of this week:

POLITICS:  While many were excited to comment on inauguration events and were swept up by the exuberance of Joe Biden, the stylish grace of Michelle Obama, and the youthful innocence of the Obama girls snapping phone flicks,  the governmental machine still raged on.  If there is one lesson I hope people learn from President Obama's first term it is that it takes more than one political outlier who is able to galvanize the nation to redirect the political machine.  While an estimated 1 million people gathered in DC for the inauguration ceremonies, Virginia lawmakers were busy trying to put in place policy intended to have a Republican president taking oath in 2016.  The GOP in VA proposed a bill to redistribute electoral college votes so that the impact of urban areas densely populated by people of color would have less impact than would more rural areas.  This smacks of the same type of race-tinged voter manipulation that lead the PA House Majority Leader, Mark Turzai to utter this memorable line in June.

"Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,”
If this goes through in Virginia, what would stop GOP officials in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, and Illinois from trying to do the same.  If voter district gerrymandering could work in swing states, surely GOP honks would have no problem trying to redistrict states like California and New York.  Now that we have put our inaugural ball gowns and tuxes away it is time to make sure that we're paying attention.  Those who turned out for inauguration better be voters in the mid-term elections.  It is clear what the GOP plan is, and if people want to see the President move forward with his agenda in these next four years, then allowing a GOP-dominated House won't work.  Unfortunately Nate Silver is already forecasting that I shouldn't get my hopes up for a 17-seat swing in 2014 that would return the Dems to a majority.

SPORTS:  It's going to be an eerie feeling in Los Angeles come mid-April when the playoffs start and the Staples Center will have already packed up the hardwood floor that the Lakers play on.  As we hit the midpoint of the season, it looks like we are going to see the Clippers, aka the Staples Center stepchildren, make the playoffs while the main Staples Center tenant will be drowning their sorrows at an Hermosa Beach watering hole.  Not since the '75-'76 season have we seen the Clippers in the money round without the Lakers.  This will be a first in my lifetime, and it will be interesting to see how LA responds.  Will Jack, Denzel, and Cube support the Clippers?  Will the tall apartment building across from Staples unveil a Clippers mural?  All food for thought, but the real nitty gritty is what are the Lakers going to do to turn it around.  What will be the move that rights the ship?  The only marketable pieces on the team are Kobe and Dwight.  Pau Gasol's market value has been destroyed by Coach D'Antoni, and discussing trading Kobe is ludicrous (contract is a monster, 30M @ 35?).  Lakers fans will talk all playoffs about the 16 Championship banners that currently hang in Staples, and I'm glad they have that to hold onto.  Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchack have some work to do here and it might take a while to get it right.
ENTERTAINMENT:  When will the folks on Deception realize that if Meagan Good is to be believed as a cop, then she can't look like she just walked off the set of a photo shoot.   The writers have also failed to give her any real depth as a character so we're left with a main character who provides eye candy while we become more interested in the characters of Victor Garber and Tate Donovan.   Damn shame because the concept is one that should have rendered NBC a hit show.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Class Notes week 1/14

What a week for explosive drama.  If you're a sportswriter or talk-show host, you got to be lazy this week in preparation as Manti Te'o and Lance Armstrong provided more than enough material to fill a column or a show.  The Golden Globes happened last weekend and saw Tina Fey and Amy Poehler take hosting a step forward.  Salute Don Cheadle for winning the Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series Award for his work on one of my favorite shows, House of Lies.  Here are the rest of my class notes for the week:

POLITICS:  We're still talking gun control, and that's a good thing.  I like how President Obama symbolically used children and the letters they wrote to him after the Newtown, CT tragedy to remind his fellow politicians that controlling assault weapons and their ammo is not simply about politics, but about people.  No family should have to live with the knowledge that their child might have been spared being riddled with bullets from a 100-round drum magazine if only the shooter had been background checked.  I'm also still waiting to hear a plausible argument for why you would ever need that kind of ammo in the first place unless you intend to maim big groups of people.  I applaud the President in that among his 23 executive orders, there were provisions included for mental health professionals to cooperate in the background screening process and there were also provisions for assault weapons recovered at crime scenes to be traced so we can begin to deal with the sources of these weapons.

SPORTS:  So Lance Armstrong decides to come clean about his use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) ideally so he can save the Livestrong organization that he built.  Instead of facing a sportswriter like Bryant Gumbel, Andrea Kremer, or Jason Whitlock, people who would really press him on why he perpetrated a lie for almost 15 years, he chose Oprah Winfrey.  This selection was a copout because while Oprah is a good interviewer, investigative journalism is not what she does, nor does she ever really dig in on someone she is interviewing to make them feel uncomfortable.  I did not watch the interview and I won't because the questions I would have for Lance aren't going to be answered.  Oprah didn't push him about why he intimidated and discredited teammates who came out against him. Nor did she press him on why he chose now to come clean.  I wanted to believe the Lance Armstrong narrative, and did for many years, but as teammates started to chip away at the legend one by one, common sense took over.  It is a complicated story in that his tainted athletic accomplishments gave him the platform to do so much good in the area of cancer research funding.  However, I believe he still would've had success as a cancer advocate without the seven PED-tainted Tour deFrance wins, and the story would've been real.  Beating brain and testicular cancer to come back and race in a 2,000+ mi competition would've worked as a hero story especially given that he was already a world champion.  Now, he'll have to cough up millions, and the Livestrong brand will forever be tarnished.

ENTERTAINMENT:  Lots of my favorite shows came back this week.  Makes it harder to maintain my writing discipline, but I'll make it.  My current Top 5:

1.  Suits
2.  House of Lies
3.  Californication
4.  Last Resort (can't believe it's already cancelled.  Andre Braugher is the man)
5.  Scandal (I can see that this show is gonna jump the shark for me very quickly)

TEAM CARROLL:  Lil Man took another step towards becoming the next Bruce Lee as he earned his 2nd degree yellow belt this past weekend.  It is truly amazing to watch the kid who bounces all over the house like a bouncy ball focus in when it's time to perform his skills.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Class Notes week 1/7

One of my goals for 2013 is to make use of my blog space more often as a place to slow down and reflect.  Between my family and my professional projects, there often is little time for anything else, but it's imperative to get off the carousel at regular intervals to catch my breath and then keep going.  Last year I managed to get at least one blog in every month.  This year I'm going for one post a week, which I'm going to call my Class Notes, a quick spin through the things that resonate in my world: Domestic Politics, Sports, and Entertainment.  I'll also throw in a note about my family as they are the center of my universe.  So without further introduction, here they go...

POLITICS:  Newton, CT. Aurora, CO (again). Taft, CA.  The shootings continue and guns are still finding the wrong hands.  We have to be more serious about gun control.  I'm not saying ban gun ownership, but I also don't think folk need to be rolling around like Antonio Banderas in DesperadoEven more important is the screening of those who seek to purchase guns and ammo.  If I have to go through every background screen known to man to work with kids, then so should those who seek to own instruments capable of snuffing out human life.  That's an argument that should resonate with even the most staunch gun advocate.

SPORTS:  The Baseball Writers of America (BWA) decided to take the easy way out and not elect anyone to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  Instead of voting in a crop of athletes both suspected and acknowledged as performance-enhancing drug (PED) users, the writers chose to uphold some kind of faux-purity standard.  Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa all got less than forty percent of the vote despite being transcendent figures throughout their careers who made baseball relevant again after the 1994-95 strike season.  Equally egregious in my eyes is the denial of players like Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy who were never associated with PEDs yet, they don't appear to be HOFers in a numbers sense when compared with the likes of Bonds, McGwire, Canseco and others.  This stinks even more of a planned boycott when you consider that sure HOFers like Randy Johnson, Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, players who were never associated with PEDs, will be eligible for induction in the next two years.  The moral high ground that the BWA tries to claim is laughable and contributes to why Baseball has long been surpassed by Football as America's favorite sport.

ENTERTAINMENT:  If you can write a movie that is approximately twenty minutes too long so that the script can showcase the entire range of the lead character's abilities, then you have a chance at being nominated for an Oscar.  Zero Dark Thirty put me to sleep as did the The Hurt Locker and the drama about a bomb disposal team won six golden statues.  I'm rooting for Silver Linings Playbook this awards season since its centered in my hometown, the Iladelph and stars a hometown dude in Bradley Cooper.  The movie had an indie feel to it, but didn't feature the drawn-out screenplay of many Oscar-nominated films. 

TEAM CARROLL:  The Mrs. first episode as a BONES writer airs on Monday, Jan 14, so we'll all be taking phone pics when her name flashes on the screen.  It has been announced that BONES will be back for a 10th season, so it looks like I'll be a trophy husband for another year.